Obi Toppin faces off with Isaac Okoro in the Knicks’ first home preseason game, one against another pitiful competitor in the Cavs.
New York Knicks basketball is finally back in Madison Square Garden. After splitting a two-game series with the Pistons, the Knicks will host the Cleveland Cavaliers for two games starting tonight.
Cleveland was one of just three teams not to crack 20 wins last season, but there is reason to be intrigued with the young squad. The Cavs went 5-6 after firing John Beilein and rolling with J.B. Bickerstaff, who is back at the helm this season. Each win was over a team that qualified for the bubble, including the Miami Heat, Denver Nuggets, and Philadelphia 76ers. They’ll have Andre Drummond for a full season. The four-time rebounding champion spent only eight games with the Cavs last season after being acquired at the trade deadline. The Cavs also have former Knick wing Damyean Dotson.
What makes the Cavaliers enticing is their intriguing package of youngsters. Isaac Okoro, the fifth overall pick in the 2020 draft, has had an impressive preseason so far, averaging 16.5 points on 62.5% shooting. Guards Darius Garland and Collin Sexton, who led the team in scoring with an efficient 20.8 points per game last season, have the potential to be offensive dynamos. Sophomore wing Kevin Porter Jr. has flashed impressive shot-making skills as well.
The Knicks and Cavs will face off three times in the first half of the regular season. The first two matchups, one of which is the fourth game on the Knicks’ schedule, will take place in Cleveland.
R.J. Barrett has had himself a pretty good preseason thus far. The second-year swingman showed a lot of rust early in the first game, shooting 2-of-10 in the first half and sprinkling in a few airballs. Since then, he’s been moving and grooving. He hasn’t shot under 50% from the field in any of the three halves that followed.
Through two games, Barrett is averaging a team-leading 20.0 points per game on 51.5% field goal shooting, which trails only Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel. He is shooting 71.4% from the free throw line, which bests his rookie year mark by 10 points.
RJ Barrett had a NIGHT 🔥 @RjBarrett6
• 25 points (10-17 FG, 4-5 FT)
• 4 rebounds
• 2 assists
• 1 steal
• 36 minutes played pic.twitter.com/fLKDqtypr1
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) December 14, 2020
Barrett has also shown some kinks that need ironing out. He has only made one of his nine three-point attempts and has tallied only four assists as well as six turnovers. Still, Barrett has been New York’s best player halfway through its preseason.
Abysmal perimeter shooting abounds
Last year’s Knicks offense was putrid at shooting from beyond the arc. Despite an overhaul in the front office and coaching staff, that problem persists.
The Knicks are shooting a league-worst 23.2% from deep in the preseason. Their 28 three-point attempts per game are the third-lowest in the league. It should be noted that Austin Rivers, one of New York’s better perimeter shooters hasn’t played yet due to a groin pull. The free agent acquisition should help, but his modest three-point volume and percentage won’t heal the team’s ill shooting.
Despite the perimeter shooting woes, young sharpshooter Immanuel Quickley has only played nine minutes total. When he did play, Tom Thibodeau used him as a top-of-the-key ball-handler, rather than a shooter off the wing. Ignas Brazdeikis, Myles Powell, and Jared Harper—three young shooters—have yet to see any action. Nor has Omari Spellman, a young big that shot 39.1% from behind the arc on 2.2 attempts per game last season.
Unless Thibodeau turns to the very end of his bench or Leon Rose shakes up the roster, get used to seeing an offense with a cluttered paint again.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Austin Rivers are out tonight while Frank Ntilikina and Nerlens Noel are doubtful against the Cavs, per the team. Ergo, Mitchell Robinson will start for the first time this preseason.
Injury Report for 12/16 vs. Cleveland: Michael Kidd Gilchrist (illness) and Austin Rivers (sore right groin) are out; Frank Ntilikina (sore left Achilles) and Nerlens Noel (sore left knee) are doubtful.
— NY_KnicksPR (@NY_KnicksPR) December 16, 2020